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“Perks of Being a Wallflower” Rhetorical Analysis

Updated April 26, 2022
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“Perks of Being a Wallflower” Rhetorical Analysis essay

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Summary

In the Perks of Being a Wallflower, a novel by Stephen Chbosky there is a central theme that appears throughout the entire story: friendship. The narrator, Charlie is a shy, socially awkward teenage boy who is a prime example of being a wallflower. Through letters Charlie writes to a friend that is never revealed to us; we see Charlie trying to navigate the ins and outs of adolescence, while simultaneously dealing with demons from his past. Charlie struggles through becoming a participator in life opposed to a wallflower, letting people walk all over him and putting people above himself. He is continuously learning from his relationships with his emotionally distant family, new-found friends, a wise teacher, and everyone else in this coming-of-age novel. The author Chbosky, uses rhetoric to persuade the audience that no one is ever truly alone, and that with strong friendships and a good support system they can begin healing from a multitude of difficulties and tragedies in life, just like Charlie. I think Chbosky succeeds in trying to demonstrate through Charlie and his friends that friendship is strength and that through it you can find yourself and learn important lessons from those friendships.

what do you think Stephen Chbosky is trying to do? It’s important that you mention him because he is the person who created Charlie and the other characters. You are analyzing the ideas that he is putting forth through his characters. Do you think he is successful in conveying this idea and what is it? What is he trying to say about friendship?

Definition

Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, that utilizes literary devices and other compositional techniques. Ethos, Pathos and Logos all make up the basic tools of rhetoric, they represent character, logic and emotion. I will analyze the friendship elements of this novel using the rhetorical devices pathos and ethos as they are used by the author in the book as a rhetorical approach. Pathos is a Greek word that means “suffering”. It is commonly used to persuade an audience by influencing their emotions. It is used to establish compassion or empathy. Unlike logos, pathos focuses on the audience’s irrational modes of response. Ethos however, applies to morals and values. Many of the scenes in the book that have an emphasizes on the theme of friendship and love are given to the reader with pathos and/or ethos applied to it.

Assessment

In a tale as old as time, Chbosky weaves a modern twist on an old story: coming-of-age. Like many books on growing up, friendship is one of the most relevant and predominant themes throughout the novel. Charlie is shy and has virtually no friends before he meets Patrick and Sam. Studies show that, “Friendships are a central component to adolescent health, and friendship groups tend to show similarities in health behaviors.” (Burk, Steglich, & Snijders. 2007; McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001; Umberson & Montez, 2010). And it’s with them that he begins to learn a lot more about himself, others and just life in general. But the most important part is the feeling of belonging that comes along with these new friends, a feeling we can all relate to. We can all relate to belonging in the way of maybe never experiencing it but seeing it like Charlie before Patrick and Sam. Or, we can relate in knowing the exact feeling the author is describing when Charlie says, “I don’t remember where we were walking to or where we were walking from. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.” (Chbosky,198) In this moment. the reader can feel the emotions emanating from the page, hitting a spot in our heart and minds that’s familiar to all of us, the feeling of belonging or wanting to. The author uses pathos here to persuade the reader that Charlie is just like us, that through his remarkable friendship with Patrick and Sam he finally found himself.

After Michaels death Charlie expresses that “It would be very nice to have a friend again. I would like that even more than a date.” (Chbosky, 21) Here, the author is using pathos to help us relate to how lonely Charlie is, and everyone can relate to loneliness. This feeling is tangible, something so strong and similar we can almost taste it. Therefore, his loneliness only makes his discovery of true friendship even sweeter. We as the readers feel a stronger connection with Charlie earlier in the book the more relatable he becomes. His thirst for companionship is a common thing amongst people especially young adults. Every teenager has at some point felt the sting of loneliness. This blatant use of pathos draws us in, and connects us to Charlie whom we can all see ourselves in.

After Charlie meets Patrick, Sam and their friends he assimilates himself with them, which “…refers to similarity that develops after friendships have been established (Veenstra, Dijkstra, Steglich, & Zalk, 2013)” Even though he is younger and more socially awkward he finds himself fitting in nicely with their group. In this scene, the author is using pathos again to create a euphoria among the characters that readers can feel to, “Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite. (Chbosky,66).

We learn at the end of the book along with Charlie who is just as surprised as us, that his favored Aunt Helen used to molest him when he was a child. We see throughout the novel Charlies dependency on his friends, the only real support system has ever known. The author uses pathos to demonstrate to the readers and persuade them that true friendship withstands faults and flaws. All the characters in the book have their own problems and coping mechanisms however for Charlie, Patrick and Sam you can see where their love and friendship for one another heals a multitude of wounds. For example, at the end of the book, closer to when Charlie finally realizes the truth, he has a sexual encounter with Sam but is unable to continue as soon as she touches his genitals. This is due to the ptsd Charlie unknowingly has from his Aunts molestation. Recent research indicates that “the ways in which individuals interpret traumatic experiences, as well as the ways that they manage challenging emotions in general, may statistically predict post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms to a greater extent than does trauma itself.” (Barlow, M. R., Goldsmith Turow, R. E., & Gerhart, J. 2017) Therefore Charlie is vulnerable, fighting his own demons. Sam however shows kindness in her friendship and does not belittle him, even though she isn’t given a clear explanation. Here the author uses rhetoric in both pathos and ethos. We sympathize with Charlie, but we glorify Sam’s kindness in her show of morale and values. Many readers will be able to relate to this moment and Sam because everyone would like to think they would do the same if it were them. In this study, involving 344 college aged men and women researches found that, “Although the long-term effects of cumulative childhood maltreatment (CCM) include a variety of adverse consequences, many individuals are resilient following such experiences.–Findings revealed strong promotive (main) effects of social support from family and friends that were associated with a reduction in symptoms of depression/anxiety and anger/hostility, regardless of the severity of abuse experienced.”( Folger, Susan F, and Wright, Margaret O.) So, the book ends on an optimist positive note, in my opinion the author shows that despite the abuse Charlie endured his friendships promoted healing and restoration. The author uses pathos and ethos to encourage us, the readers, that no matter what you are going through you are not alone and that we all have friends or can make some if we don’t. Even though friendship couldn’t save Michael in the beginning it saves, or begins to, save Charlie in the end.

Discussion

Overall the author was more than effective in conveying his message across to readers through rhetoric. This book is personal and emotionally gripping, thanks to both pathos and ethos. There is no way anyone could read this book and walk away from it without having been fundamentally changed. It makes you question yourself, how much you really know about those around you and if you have any idea what your loved ones are going through. We can all see a little of ourselves in Charlie with his innocence, his inexperience, his need for friendship and connection. This book not only makes the audience receptive but especially younger readers, it has the potential to permanently change their behavior permanently. The book shines a light on a new perspective for many young adults. The story of a shy, socially awkward, loner that is trying to find himself. No matter how popular, successful, or how many friends we have, we have all at some point felt lonely like Charlie did. And we have also all felt the relief of belonging and finding those whom you unquestionably click with, as Charlie did with Patrick and Sam. Through Charlies eyes we see what the author is saying, that Charlie maybe average, nothing too special about him. He wasn’t a football star like his brother, or as beautiful as his sister, and on top of everything he had demons that plagued him. But he is important, just like everyone one of us, he was worthy of love, friendship and happiness that it was those things that end up giving him a hope for the future in the end. The books overall message to young people especially, is to keep moving, to carry on and make a few great friendships along the way that make us all feel a little “infinite”.

“Perks of Being a Wallflower” Rhetorical Analysis essay

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